Writing the Cross Culture

A Book Review by Larry P. Madden writing cross culture book

The book, “Writing the Cross Culture, Native Fiction on the White Man's Religion,” edited by James Treat, is a compilation of satirical and family fiction.  The common denominator is the conflicts in religious practices between cultures.  With an alcoholic overtone that was and still is a pervasive element in Pan-Indian existence, the stories range from pre-boarding school era to the modern.  The tales are spun in the same life-affecting consciousness as traditional ones of old.  With authors hailing from all corners of Turtle Island, the familiarity between the stories is really interesting to see and to recognize. 

The contributors to this work span the decades from pre-20th century to leading entertainers and activists of today.  From the writers of yesteryear, John M Oskison (Cherokee) 1874-1947 and Zitkala-Sa (Sioux) 1876-1938, to recent sages Vine Deloria Jr. (Sioux) 1933-2005 and John Trudell (Sioux) 1947-2017, to the still producing Menoninee writer Jody Barnes, the short stories take readers on a ride through dilemma, love, pain, hope and despair.  The prevailing message is the healing power of Indian humor and it runs as deep throughout the pieces.

My own mother was the product of boarding school indoctrination, though my mother’s stories never dwelt on the punishments, my Uncles Charlie and Tommy Gardener both told me of horrific beatings at the hands of both the church and Menominee students resenting their Mohican (Stockbridge) presence in the school.  Unknown to us at the time, this same scenario played out in many Indian households of the 40s, 50s and 60s.  Now, we understand the “kill the Indian save the man” tactics of this era, we can see these stories as a lasting song of resistance.  The commonality within the tales link well with the government’s flat handed approach to Indian affairs.  Even with widely diverse peoples from many tribes, the complaints had so much in common.  This collection is fiction, but fiction born of life experiences and family histories. 

“Report to the Nation: Claiming Europe” by Carter Revard is the second story.  The author grew up on the Osage Reservation, in the culture of his Ponca and Osage relatives.  From humble beginnings, Revard rose to graduate from not only the University of Tulsa with a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University, but later would earn a PhD from Yale University.  His satirical piece puts the moccasin on the other foot as he discovers and claims major European landmarks for the Osage nation under the guise that the Europeans possibly might be civilized in the future.

This is just the start of some funny and some sorrowful tales and observations in this compilation.  I found it funny and painful but really a neat look inside Indian storytellers’ mindsets regarding our multicultural existence.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.